Here at Birlinn we thought we would share with you our thoughts of some of our favourite books of the year.
Neville Moir (Publishing Director, Polygon): The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan Philip Sendker
A New York lawyer, Julia Win, travels to Burma in search of her missing father and in an attempt to understand her past. Finding herself in Kalaw, in deepest, impoverished Burma, she is approached by a kind stranger, U Ba, who seems to know her. His words lead to a touching, moving journey that will change Julia’s life forever.
This is an unashamedly romantic novel, without being overly-sentimental. The writing is accomplished: his description of Burma, its colours, sounds, and scent is startlingly vivid; the narrative flows beautifully, poetically, and the book is informed with a profound emotional intelligence. But most of all, like few others he writes convincingly and poignantly about the power love has to affect our lives.
Hugh Andrew (Managing Director, Birlinn Limited): The Northern Earldoms by Barbara Crawford
It’s a pleasure to publish a definitive book on the Norse earldom of the north. This story is one of the great tales of Scottish history and the authors sets the Earldom in its rightful place in Scottish history. For Barbara the study of Viking Scotland has been her life’s work and this book is a fitting testament to that. And, although I shouldn’t really say it, it is beautifully produced!
Alison Rae (Managing Editor, Polygon): What Presence! The Rock Photography of Harry Papadopoulos, Introduced by Ken McCluskey
Harry Papadopoulos’s stunning 80s rock photography book is a perfect gift for rock mums and dads and indie kids. And Bobby Gillespie sums it all up: ‘It’s wild seeing this stuff . . . reminds me of being a kid who loved and lived for nothing except for music/bands.’
Vikki Reilly (Sales & Marketing Liaison): Man on the Run by Tom Doyle
Unsurprisingly, as the resident Beatlemaniac, I have been palpitating about this book ever since commission. And, oh! It doesn’t disappoint! Tom Doyle takes us hurtling through Macca’s post-Beatles nervous breakdown, his drug busts, his banned (and occasionally baffling) records, the trials and triumphs of Wings, his Japanese jail time, and the nightmare of John Lennon’s murder. So exciting! And it’ll make you want to revisit the songs, which is never a chore! Ha!
Here he is at the top of his game, singing one of his best…
Anna Renz, The Lure of the Honey Bird by Liz Laird
Stunningly written, this book whisks the reader through the various regions of Ethiopia. It presents a fascinating picture of this incredible country, from its people and food to its customs and politics. The undercurrent of folklore and fairy tales throughout the book raises intriguing questions about how these stories have evolved in Ethiopia and how similar stories have developed in countries around the world.
Jan Rutherford (Publicity Director, Birlinn Limited): The Puffer Cookbook by Mandy Hamilton and David Hawson
A very attractive book bubbling over with tasty and unusual recipes – all created by Mandy Hamilton in the tiny galley kitchen of a Clyde Puffer – but equally good cooked at home. Taste the delights of Mandy’s kitchen with recipes such as Onion, Bacon and Potato Hotpot, Thyme-scented Oatcakes – these are to die for by the way, Craighouse Pier Scallops with Garlic and Parsley, Asparagus and Rosemary Parcels, slow-cooked Lamb Shanks, Puy Lentil, Spinach and Crispy Bacon Salad, Potato and Seaweed Cakes (with guidance as to which seaweed to gather) and many more. David Hawson’s illustrations and the photographs of the Puffer set the recipes off beautifully. This is a real treat and the perfect gift.
Niamh O’Brien: Rowing After the White Whale by James Adair
This is an endearing and inspiring story that reminds readers to never become complacent in life. The book is both beautifully and cleverly written with each chapter thoughtfully tied into a passage from classic literature, such as Moby Dick. James’ account of his physical and personal journey quite literally evokes the idiom -do what you’ve got to do and paddle your own canoe!
James Hutcheson (Creative Director): Dazzling Stranger: Bert Jansch and the British Folk and Blues Revival by Colin Harper
It’s tricky having to choose just one book from an entire year, but I guess my favourite would be Dazzling Stranger: Bert Jansch and the British Folk and Blues Revival written by Colin Harper.
Harper’s research is phenomenal and it is undoubtedly a daunting task he has had to assemble a coherent narrative from the vast amount of information amassed.
Although the book centres on the career of one of Scotland’s most influential artists – Bert Jansch (singer/songwriter and guitarist par excellence) – it is the other cast of characters with which he associated, which fascinate. Harper’s sense of time and place is wonderfully invoked – from Jansch’s early days in his home town of Edinburgh to the international touring he did in Europe and America. This book also reminds us of a gentler time when culture was not quite so dominated by new media and marketing. As Bert’s old flatmate Robin Williamson once said; ‘Be glad for the song has no ending…’
Bert Jansch 1943 – 2011
Julie Fergusson (Sales, Publicity and Events Administrator): White Gold by Peter Burns
Written with energy and enthusiasm, White Gold brings to life the England team’s journey in the years leading up to the 2003 World Cup. When Clive Woodward was appointed as England manager he introduced a new way of coaching and a new style of playing to the team – a move that was difficult but ultimately worth it. This book explores his influences and inspirations, and includes scientific analysis of coaching techniques as well as players’ potential genetic and biological advantages. But this is not a dry sports book – the dedication and work all involved with the England squad put in is staggering, and we go through each emotional success and failure with them in the lead-up to the World Cup. The game descriptions are vivid and the rundown of the final between England and Australia is dramatic and, even though we know how it ends, somehow full of suspense! I really loved this and highly recommend it.
Sally Pattle (Junior Publicist): Waiting for the Magic by Oscar Marzaroli
The photographs Oscar Marzaroli took of Glasgow, in particular those of Castlemilk and Govan, are easily some of the most recognisable images of the city ever taken. Waiting For The Magic has all of those iconic shots: the wee boys staring into the camera – mini hard men in the making; the last gasp of the crumbling tenement blocks; the everyday Glasgow life. I love these shots, and it’s fantastic to have them in such a beautiful package, but that’s not what makes this book so special for me.
It’s the shots of the Highlands and Islands, the rural life and beach life – they are still unmistakably Marzaroli in their use of light and shadow and the unobtrusive nature of his composition, but for me they are a revelation. I had no idea he had taken these shots, and am delighted all over again that he still manages to convey the same power and emotion.
My personal favourite is Kipper-smoking in Fraserburgh, 1962 – it reminds me of a Bellany painting done around that time. Every time I open the book I find something new – it is pure dead magic.